Picking Up the Shards of the Office of Governor General: A New Advisory Committee Created


The History of Earlier Advisory Committees, 2010-2015

In July 2010, Prime Minister Harper convened an ad hoc Governor General Consultation Committee to vet and recommend candidates for Michaelle Jean’s successor as Governor General of Canada. In a press release, the Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged: “There has never been a robust consultation process on the appointment of a Governor General. Past consultations have been ad hoc and perfunctory.” In contrast, “The advisory committee engaged in extensive consultations across the country, meeting with leading constitutional experts, past and current political leaders, and other distinguished Canadians before providing the Prime Minister with its confidential recommendations.”[1]And it based its search on the following question: “Will the next Governor General be able to serve without partisanship and according to the Constitutional role he/she will be given?” This ad hoc committee was chaired by Shelia-Marie Cook (Secretary and Deputy to the Governor General) and consisted of Rainer Knopff (Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary), Kevin S. MacLeod (Usher of the Black Rod), Christopher Manfredi (Professor of Political Science at McGill University), Christopher McCreey (Private Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia), and Jacques Monet (Director of the Canadian Institute of Jesuit Studies). Harper nominated David Johnston from amongst this committee’s recommendations of possible candidates in the fall of 2010, and he became of the best Governors General in living memory. He proved so successful that in 2015, Harper took the rare step of announcing that Johnston would continue in office for another two years, until 2017, rather than retiring after the customary five in 2015.[2]

Harper then build upon the principle underpinning this ad hoc committee and turned it into something more formal and routine. In November 2012, Harper established the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments to “provide non-binding recommendations to the Prime Minister on the selection of the Governor General, Lieutenant Governors and Territorial Commissioners.”[3] The Advisory Committee was headed by Kevin MacLeod, then the Canadian Secretary to the Queen, and consisted of two permanent members, Robert Watt (a former Chief Herald of Canada) and Jacques Monet, as well as two members ad hoc for the province or territory concerned. In addition, “a representative from the Prime Minister’s office [would] participate […] as an observer” but could not vote on the recommendations.[4] Members of the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments were appointed by Order-in-Council under the Public Service Employment Act.[5]

The Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments would meet systematically and “deliberate on candidates and consult with key stakeholders when vacancies for the Governor General, Lieutenant Governors or Territorial Commissioners are anticipated.” It would subsequently “present a report to the Prime Minister with a shortlist of proposed candidates for the Prime Minister’s consideration.” The Terms of Reference for the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments further elaborated that two permanent members would “serve terms not exceeding six years” while temporary members would serve for up to six months – though members remained eligible for re-appointment.[6] Presumably, temporary members could have been re-appointed if their province or territory needed another Lieutenant Governor or Commissioner.  

The Advisory Committee conducted its searches in three phases:

1. When a vacancy is anticipated, the Prime Minister will launch a recommendation process by sending letters to members of the Advisory Committee, together with guidance on the process.

2. The Advisory Committee will begin deliberations on candidates, and consult with key stakeholders.  If required, the Advisory Committee will meet twice per appointment.  The Advisory Committee will report to the Prime Minister on the progress of its deliberations as appropriate.

3. The Advisory Committee will present a report to the Prime Minister with a shortlist of proposed candidates for consideration. [6]

Between November 2012 and November 2015, the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments would have deliberated on the appointments of the following Lieutenant Governors and Commissioners:

  1. 5 February 2013: Frank F. Fagan as Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador[7]
  2. 26 June 2014: Elizabeth Dowdeswell as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario[8]
  3. 8 August 2014: Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau as Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick[9]
  4. 23 March 2015: Janice Claire Filmon as Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba[10]
  5. 20 May 2015: Lois Mitchell as Lieutenant Governor of Alberta[11]
  6. 23 June 2015: Nellie Taptaqut Kusugak as Commissioner of Nunavut[12]
  7. 21 July 2015: J. Michel Doyon as Lieutenant Governor of Quebec[13]

The New Advisory Group on the Selection of the Next Governor General 

Upon his appointment in November 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau opted not to use the Vice-Regal Appointments Committee, which has gone dormant, though he could have easily re-convened it if he wished. Instead, the Trudeau government announced through the Privy Council Office (under the auspices of Democratic Institutions) in the quiet hours of the afternoon of Friday, 12 March 2021 the creation of a new ad hocAdvisory Group on the Selection of the Next Governor General,”[14]which “is mandated to deliberate and submit a shortlist of outstanding Canadians for the Prime Minister’s consideration.” This new ad hoc Advisory Group will be co-chaired by Dominic Leblanc, the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, and by Janice Charette, interim Clerk of the Privy Council; it will also include Daniel Jutras (Rector of the Université de Montréal), Judith LaRocque (former Secretary to the Governor General), Natan Obed (President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami), and Suromitra Sanatani (Interim Chair of the Board of Directors of Canada Post). You can even submit suggestions to the Advisory Group by e-mail. Incidentally, Dominic Leblanc’s father, Romeo Leblanc, served as Governor General from 1995 to 1999.

This Advisory Group on the Selection of the Next Governor General represents a different approach from that Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments and the Governor General Consultation Committee, which did not include any Ministers of the Crown. The website does not include any background on its terms of reference, which would differ from those of the earlier committees. It simple says, “The Government of Canada is committed to finding and selecting a candidate to fill the office of Governor General who represents the very best of our country.” In addition, its provision nature means that it does not apply to vetting and recommending candidates for the offices of Lieutenant Governor and territorial Commissioners, which become vacant from time to time, too. The Trudeau government would either need to modify this new committee to make it less ad hoc and more permanent, or create another new committee to deal with the offices of Lieutenant Governors and Commissioners. I shall watch this process unfold with great interest.

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Notes

[1]    Canada, Office of the Prime Minister, “Governor General Consultation Committee,” 12 July 2010.

[2]    John Ibbitson, “Harper Extends Governor-General David Johnston’s Term Until 2017,” The Globe and Mail, 17 March 2015.

[3]    Canada, Office of the Prime Minister, “News Release: New Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments,” 4 November 2012; Christopher McCreery, “Subtle Yet Significant Innovations: The Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments and the Secretary’s New Royal Powers,” chapter 9 in The Crown and Parliament, edited by Michel Bédard and Philippe Lagassé, 241-261 (Montreal: Thomson-Reuters, 2015), 245.

[4]    Canada, Prime Minister’s Office, “Terms of Reference: Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments,” 4 November 2012.

[5]    Canada, Privy Council Office, Order-in-Council PC 2012-1482, 2 November 2012.

[6]    Canada, Prime Minister’s Office, “Terms of Reference: Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments,” 4 November 2012.

[7]    Canada, Privy Council Office, Order-in-Council P.C. 2013-0071, 5 February 2013.

[8]    Canada, Privy Council Office, Order-in-Council P.C. 2014-0855, 26 June 2014.

[9]    Canada, Privy Council Office, Order-in-Council P.C. 2014-0909, 8 August 2014.

[10]  Canada, Privy Council Office, Order-in-Council P.C. 2015-0336, 23 March 2015.

[11]  Canada, Privy Council Office, Order-in-Council P.C. 2015-0622, 20 May 2015.

[12]  Canada, Privy Council Office, Order-in-Council P.C. 2015-1028, 23 June 2015.

[13]  Canada, Privy Council Office, Order-in-Council P.C. 2015-1124, 21 July 2015.

[14]  Canada, Privy Council Office (Democratic Institutions), “Minister LeBlanc announces advisory group to assist with the selection of the next Governor General,” 12 March 2021.

About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively in my field. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
This entry was posted in Crown (Powers and Office), Governor General. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Picking Up the Shards of the Office of Governor General: A New Advisory Committee Created

  1. PierreB says:

    Thanks for another excellent article.

    The star who was appointed as a result of Mr. Trudeau’s initial selection process imploded spectacularly. A prudent decision maker would not have doubled down on the approach that served him, the institution, and the nation so poorly.

    And yet, here we are. The search committee is headed by a faithful confidante of the Prime Minister. The co-chair works for Mr. Leblanc. All six members, including the co-chairs, apparently get to vote on who is to be on the short list. There is no official seat for the Canadian Secretary to the Queen.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Like

  2. Maureen says:

    A selection process is most certainly needed, but qualifications should be based on knowledge of the constitution and responsible government rather than political connections and the ability to sway a decision based on partisan politics. How soon we forget about David Johnston’s role in the Oliphant / Air Bus scandal that saw Mulroney walk away without scars!

    Like

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